Field of Dreams: Lisa Wilkes Builds Her Legacy From The Ground Up
It’s been said in the horse industry that you can go out and buy yourself a championship. However, when you are a breeder, that path isn’t really an option. Breeders generally make their champions and build them from the ground up. And this sentiment couldn’t be more true for Mike and Lisa Wilkes of ML Wilkes Show Horses in Dublin, Georgia.
The Wilkes have a small breeding operation composed of a handful of quality broodmares, including top producing mares Bettin With My Heart (her first three foals are AQHA, NSBA, and APHA World Champions, and Lisa will be showing her fourth foal this year), Dont Skip Zips Version (AQHA Res. World Champion and Congress Champion Producer), and MS Open Range (Congress Champion and Res. AQHA World Champion Producer).
The Wilkes breed 3-7 foals per year to get them to the pen and win at the industry’s highest levels. Some of their notable foals include VS Code Me Lucky, Bettin The Goods, VS Bettin On Red, Made Like No Other, Solid As A Rock, The Range Loper, and Lopin Like No Other.
“Breeding is not for the faint of heart,” Lisa laughs. “It isn’t easy, and you hit so many obstacles along the way. To go from picking out the cross to getting a healthy baby on the ground is a big hurdle. Then keeping it healthy and getting it to a trainer is another hurdle. Then to get them through training and to the show pen is yet another hurdle.” She chuckles, admitting that she might be a little crazy.
“But it’s all worth it because, when you get that big win, it’s just such an amazing thing when you consider how hard you worked to enter the show pen. It is a dream come true that took years in the making!” she exclaims.
Lisa’s dreams first became a reality in 2016 with her first Congress win and then in 2019 with her first AQHA World Championship win. But, the journey there was representative of the actual roller coaster that is breeding, owning, and loving horses.
“I was on my way to the World Show with my home-bred mare VS Code Me Lucky (VS Code Red x Bettin With My Heart) when I got a call that broke my heart to pieces.” Lisa’s four-year-old HUS filly, Black Tie In Heels, was being rushed to the vet for emergency colic surgery.
“She was hitting her stride as a hunt seater with Jamie English, and I was so excited for her future. We tried the surgery, but she never woke up from it. So, we lost her right before I went to show,” Lisa recalls, emotionally. “I felt like I didn’t want to be there. But, my husband and trainers (Kenny and Ashley Lakins) were supportive. And VS Code Me Lucky seemed to understand I was hurting, and she gave me her all.”
Lisa refused to give up on her dream and won her first AQHA World Championship with VS Code Me Lucky in the Select Western Pleasure.
“They were calling out placings, and I was still standing there!” Lisa explains in awe. “I was thinking about everything it took to get to that moment. I kept thinking that my horse was one I raised from a baby – that she was the product of my sweat, tears, and dreams. To win a globe with a horse you raised is an unbelievable feeling. I’ll never forget that moment.”
VS Code Me Lucky is now retired from the show pen. However, she has been added to the Wilkes’ broodmare band, and they are looking forward to what kind of producer she will become. Her first foal, Ladee Luck by Gone Viral, will show this year.
Lisa advises others looking to have a home-bred show horse to, “Give your mare an honest assessment and see what you want to improve on her. Then, choose a stallion based on the fit for the mare and not necessarily what is popular. Popularity certainly helps sell the foal, but you must ensure the stud is a good fit for your mare first, or the cross won’t meet its full potential.”
Lisa realizes, “Not everyone can go out and buy the top horse in the industry, which can be intimidating to many riders. But, I’m proof that if you stick in there, climb that ladder, and have a great support team…you can do it. I believe in you!”
Lisa ascribes to the philosophy, “You can’t lose if you don’t enter…but, you’ll certainly never win. So, therefore, your desire for success must be greater than your fear of failure.”
Made Like No Other, aka “Scotty” (Machine Made x Don’t Skip Zips Version), a four-year-old stallion, will show in the Junior Western Pleasure and maturity classes with Kenny Lakins.
Lopin Like No Other, aka “Johnny” (The Lopin Machine x Loping Southern Style), a three-year-old stallion, will show under the guidance of Wade Parks in the 3YO open Western Pleasure and with Lisa herself in the 3YO non-pro Western Pleasure.
“Johnny’s dam, Loping Southern Style, passed away recently, another heartbreak, and he reminds me so much of her.” Lisa emphasizes, “He’s very easy-going and great-minded, but he has this spark that makes you feel like he’s something extraordinary. He has so much try. I’m excited to campaign him and continue his dam’s legacy.”
VS Bettin On Jacks, aka “Sheldon,” (a full sibling to VS Code Me Lucky) will show in the novice horse and the maturity 10K classes under the guidance of Kenny Lakins. In addition, Lisa will show him in the Select Western Pleasure and the non-pro 10K futurities at all the majors. “Sheldon started slow due to an injury, but is coming along nicely,” Lisa explains.
Finally, Ashley Lakins will show Ladee Luck in the Maiden Western Pleasure and 3YO Western Pleasure classes. Lisa hopes to show her in the 3YO non-pro classes and make a name for her dam as a producer.
Lisa concludes, “I’m so thankful that God blessed me with the opportunity to raise these horses and that He’s given me such nice horses that I can succeed. My husband doesn’t show, but he’s my biggest supporter and fan. He loves the breeding aspect of our operation. And, although it can be so hard at times, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love breeding, raising, and showing my babies!”